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Tim Murray: Always Eyeing Talent

Published: October 8, 2015 11:35 am ET

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On Thursday night, Buffalo Sabres' General Manager Tim Murray will be focused on his team's 2015-16 NHL debut. But for a few moments, his mind might be in Toronto. And it will have nothing to do with hockey.

Murray is the owner of a number of Standardbreds, with the most notable this season being two-year-old trotter Deep Impact. The son of Donato Hanover was thoroughly impressive earlier this year in the Define The World series at Mohawk, finishing second in the first leg -- his lifetime debut -- before winning the second and cruising to a 1:56.1 score in the Final.

While Murray's name has been more prominent on horses as of late, he's by no means a newcomer in the harness racing industry. The Shawville, Que. native began his involvement at an early age.

"It was a family thing; my Dad was in the horse business forever, as long as I can remember," Murray told Trot Insider. "He always had a few. I'd jog, if he was away I'd go out and feed. I never got to the point where I wanted to be in the business as a trainer or driver but I always dabbled in it a bit."

Tim's father Barrie owned and trained for decades, racing in the Ottawa-Quebec corridor with Connaught Park (later Hippodrome d'Aylmer) and Rideau Carleton Raceway just an hour away.

"He raced horses, he owned broodmares, he stood a stud. He had the whole package going there in Quebec," Murray continued. "I think Noble Hartack was the first stud he stood and then he had Two Step Boogie. He bred 10-20 mares and we raced six or seven at a time."

Murray's first foray into horse ownership was not an overnight success, or a success at all for that matter.

"I went to Harrisburg and bought a mare by the name of JJs Red Ribbons, who didn't end up being much of a racehorse but I ended up breeding her a couple of times. We didn't have much success at it but it really didn't deter me."

For nearly 15 years, Murray served as a scout for the NHL's Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and New York Rangers, with a stint as Director of Player Personnel for the Anaheim Ducks. The Ottawa Senators made him their Assistant General Manager in 2007 before being hired by the Buffalo Sabres for their GM position in 2014.

Despite these time-consuming roles, Murray agreed that once you catch the racing bug it's nearly impossible to shake.

"I'd go away from it for years and then there's always a reason to get back in," continued Murray. "I had a buddy who actually started out working for my Dad and years later he wanted to try training. So we just got into the claiming game and we owned five or six at a time, and we claimed from Rideau and we took a couple of them to Toronto to race."

With his sights set on more elite talent, Murray's prospect scouting paths crossed in a meeting with one of harness racing's most prominent trainers..and a man that also knows top level hockey talent: Brad Maxwell.

"I didn't know him, I knew his name ... and I just approached him before a game in Guelph when he was still an assistant coach and wasn't training horses," said Murray. "He thought I wanted to talk about a player or two on his team, and I didn't. I told him I just wanted to talk horses."

Maxwell was an assistant coach with the OHL's Guelph Storm after working with the AAA Minor Midget Cambridge Winter Hawks. There, Maxwell helped develop Ryan Ellis, who went onto play for Canada's World Junior team before being drafted into and playing in the NHL for the Nashville Predators. Knowing his resume boasts stakes winners the likes of Beastmaster, Elegantimage, Pure Ivory and Windsong Espoir, Murray recalled being immediately impressed as well with Maxwell's powers of recall.

"[Brad] was the The Meadowlands in 1976-77 when my Dad's horse Noble Hartack was there. And he brought that horse up to me, which blew my mind to tell you the truth," admitted Murray. "I said my Dad was in the game, he said 'who's your dad?' I said my Dad never had had a great horse...he said, 'who's your Dad?' and I said Barrie Murray. He said, 'so you don't consider Noble Hartack a great horse?' and I said 'I never thought of it that way' and that was how it started."

Fast forward to 2013. Murray bought into a pair of yearlings that Maxwell and his ownership group had purchased.

"I was very fortunate because they had already bought a couple and they already had their partnership put together so they spent accordingly but they let me in. And he said quite clearly the reason they let me in is because I had a bit of name ...I don't think I believe that.

"That doesn't happen very often, because you form your partnerships before you figure out how much you're going to spend. You've spent your money, you don't really want to let another guy in but they did. So I got in on two last year, two New York-breds and [in 2014] we went back to the sale and bought four."

Those 2013 yearlings are Homen Dry and Steel Reserve. A $19,000 yearling, Homen Dry won the 2014 Define The World Final and has banked just north of $100,000, while Steel Reserve has stashed away more than $35,000.

Murray has found Maxwell's style and attitude as a trainer not only fits the horses well, but also suits his approach as an owner.

"He's patient, he's smart, he's low-key...I like all that. He doesn't brag, when he does tell you that we've got a pretty good one I think you can take that to the bank, because he doesn't say it everyday. I think he's done a tremendous job, and his approach suits my approach very well."

Of the four 2014 yearlings that Murray and Maxwell had a piece in, two have since been sold and another has been turned out. The fourth is Deep Impact. Taking a similar path to the races as stablemate Homen Dry, Deep Impact conquered his Define The World foes in his early starts before stepping up to face Grand Circuit types in the Champlain. As the betting favourite, Deep Impact made a break and finished seventh.

"The way they explained it, the track was resurfaced and deep, he was wearing flip flops...everything went wrong that could go wrong," noted Murray."He trotted his last quarter in :26.3. Brad said he'd be really good next week, and as it turned out he came back and won his William Wellwood elim."

After winning his Wellwood elim, Deep Impact finished a respectable third in the lucrative final. He'll be making his first start in nearly three weeks in an overnight race for two-year-olds on Thursday night (Oct. 8) at Woodbine Racetrack. If all goes well in that start, Murray confirmed that Deep Impact would return to tussle with the Grand Circuit horses in the 2015 Breeders Crown. Eliminations for the rookie trotters are slated for Friday, October 16 at Woodbine.

Murray will keep his closest tabs tonight on the Sabres and prospect Jack Eichel, who makes his NHL regular season debut at home against the Ottawa Senators. (Deep Impact races at approximately 8:45 p.m., which could fall into the second intermission.)

"When I'm home in Shawville, I get all the [racing] channels there. Down here it's TVG and mostly runners, which I'm not a big fan of. I'm on TrackIT, the video replays are great. I get the line on as soon as the race is over and sometimes you wait until the next day to watch the video, and that's fine."

In each endeavor, hockey and harness racing, Murray seeks elusive titles with prospects he's selected. With his current stable roster, his sights are set on harness racing's holy grail.

"With Brad, it obviously would be the Hambletonian but growing up it was the Little Brown Jug. We only had pacers, and I grew up with Scott & Clay Horner and to see Doonbeg in the Little Brown Jug ... as a young guy growing up, that would be the one I'd say for sure," said Murray. "But now as an older guy, maybe a little more's really hard to win a Stanley Cup and it's really, really hard to win a Hambletonian. So that would be the one I would pick right now."

When Murray approached Maxwell initially, he thought he'd be involved with more trotting-bred stock after coming from a pacing-preferring parent. That, however, could change with the 2015 yearling selections.

"I thought by getting in with Brad, I'd like to get into the trotting game. I think it's a little more detailed, obviously and I think he's very good at that," stated Murray. "It's funny, my Dad never had a trotter when I was growing up. He probably owned a hundred or more horses, never had one trotter. Then to get in with Brad and get trotters...Brad thought I must have had some trotting in my background because he asked me a couple of weeks ago if I'd buy a pacer at the Fall sales this year with him and I said 'absolutely, I'd buy a pacer' and that was a funny question because that's all we've ever had.

"I said to him, I wish you would have asked me to buy into [Metro Pace winner] Control The Moment but that moment has passed," said Murray with a laugh. "And good for him, I'm happy for him to succeed that greatly with a pacer. I think it speaks volumes about him as a trainer."

After making his selections in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft in June and then finalizing the 2015-16 Sabres roster over the Summer, Murray shifted some of his attention to the 2015 Standardbred yearling crop. He told Trot Insider that he's pored over all the major yearling sale rosters -- Goshen, the Canadian Yearling Sale, Lexington, Forest City and Harrisburg. All in search of that next all-star or world champion prospect. Another prospect was added to the roster last night as Murray is part of the group that purchased Muscle Hill colt Miami from the Wednesday session of the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale.

"That's a passion of mine, going through those books. I may never use whatever knowledge or lack thereof that I have because I let the trainer make the decision but he's asked me for lists, he knows I'm excited about it and I've been poring through those books for years so he's asked me to give him some numbers to look at. Eventually that may become part of our routine, that he'd take a number or a few numbers from me to look at and see what I actually do or don't know."

The common threads between his full-time position and his long-time passion are not lost on the 51-year-old.

"It's scouting and it's potential, and that's what we do in hockey. I love scouting young players and you're never looking at a finished're looking at potential for 99 percent of the players. It's the same here; it's the dream of seeing a world champion two dams down and trying to duplicate that. These breeders do a great job and as a buyer you just hope that you can 1) afford to be in a couple of them and 2) one of them's the right one."

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